Countercyclical

BY Eric Dasmalchi | | Pandemic Diaries

4/26/2020 

On March 11th, when the gravity of the situation had just begun to sink in and the UC system lurched towards its new online reality, my boss sent me an email asking what I needed to keep up my research job from home. I didn’t really need anything, but went ahead and asked for a second monitor. If my laptop is to be my portal out of my newly tiny world, I figured that I at least deserved a supplement to my tiny screen. I picked the monitor up the next day. We had to coordinate to make sure there wouldn’t be too many people in the office when I arrived. I carried it home on the bus – the last time I’ve been on public transportation. 

Some days later, the external display port on my six year-old laptop broke, for good this time. I considered buying an expensive new laptop, whose delivery would almost certainly be delayed, or instead a logic board, from some person in Queens produced during the Obama Administration. I went with the logic board. After all, I already owned the tiny screwdrivers. I guess that’s what it takes to work from home: eBay parts, tiny screwdrivers, and steady hands.

Working from home also takes focus, which is in short supply. I have plenty of quiet and calm, but focus is often hard to come by, like the sold-out shelves of flour at the local supermarket. I wonder if I hoarded it all in a panic last month, before I realized that this crisis would, in fact, stretch on for months. Still I try my best, short bursts of productivity alongside hours of simply going through the motions. As for the flour, the mayor says it’s not a supply issue, that there will be plenty to go around. I believe him, and in the meantime I make do. 

I get home from shopping and pile all my nonperishables on the corner of the table for a couple days. I read somewhere that setting them aside reduces the risk of virus exposure from the packaging. But I’ve grown to like the practice for its own sake — a shrine of brightly-colored consumer products keeping me company while I wonder if whole wheat pasta is any good.

I’m making time for all those chores that aren’t real chores. Scrubbing my cycling shoes. The sewing kit inventory. The coffee table safety inspection. 

It feels odd to admit this, but right now, in April 2020, I am the healthiest I’ve been in a long while. As we all learn to make do with less, I am in the odd position of actually having more. I can still ride my bike. This means a great deal to me. Though when I was down with mono and then chronic fatigue syndrome for the last two years I did my best to convince myself that cycling didn’t matter.

I feel fortunate as I cautiously, steadily readopt my hobby. Cycling seems to be an ideal activity for these times. It’s enjoyable alone. It supports my physical and mental health. Even better, as we find that many of our outdoor public spaces too cramped and inadequate to meet the demands of the moment, my bike is a passport to all of Los Angeles’ underutilized pavement. I pass people walking in the right lane of a 45-mile-per-hour street that works like a highway. The scene looks almost hopeful until I remember what happened on Vista Del Mar in 2017: the traffic fatality, the lawsuits, the new safety infrastructure that the city abruptly rolled back, caving to a vocal minority who demand ever-larger spaces in which to be stuck in traffic.

Yet even that deep frustration seems so long ago. It happened… before. We all want to go back to a world where we can see our friends, where we’re not afraid for ourselves, our family, our community. That said, we’re not going back to before. Not exactly. I hope that when we rebuild, we’ll choose to rebuild something better. Safer streets, universal healthcare. A country that feels like one nation, ideally one moving, however imperfectly, in the right direction. I’m doing my best to take care of myself, hoping that whenever the moment arrives I’ll be rested and ready to lend a helping hand. 

Eric Dasmalchi, ’18, Los Angeles, CA